April 18, 2024

Good relations

Scott Davies, CEO at the Institute of Travel Management, thinks backs to the good old days of long business lunches and asks if relationships are still valued enough

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships recently. Are they valued in business as much they once were?

It’s a little cliché and hard to comprehend now how much business was done over long lunches or simply in pubs, or on boats, or whilst enjoying hospitality of various kinds just a decade or more ago. Few would argue that those days are largely gone but how important are relationships in the business travel industry today and what represents best practice?

“That 10-year relationship with your account manager and their boss just doesn’t happen anymore”

There are two unarguable truths to acknowledge. Firstly, supplier organisations increasingly base their key sourcing and distribution decisions on data from many sophisticated sources, rather than anecdotal market feedback from the commercial teams and customers.

Many sectors have seen quite dramatic reductions in the size of their sales teams in the last decade, not unrelatedly. Secondly, people don’t work for companies as long they used to. That 10-year relationship with your account manager and their boss just doesn’t happen anymore.

The result of these dynamics is that sales teams are often less influential in the supplier’s strategic leadership than in previous times. They change more quickly, meaning you have to start again more often, and there are less of them to have a relationship with anyway!

So should buyers and TMCs alike be trying to sidle up to the VP of Distribution, or the CFO, rather than the Head of Sales? This is unlikely to be fruitful based on sheer maths. The top of the pyramid isn’t going to be able to know many corporate customers by name. But it’s certainly worth gaining an understanding of what is deemed negotiable these days, especially in terms of discounts and commitments. Because it all seems to be rather fluid just now!

“Strong relationships are about supporting each other when times are tough as well as good”

Progress is always to be embraced, so let’s not waste oxygen flapping about whether we think this is positive direction of travel or not. But relationships will always have a key place in our industry.

In times where it seems that corporate relationships are sometimes valued less, it’s worth remembering that strong relationships are about supporting each other when times are tough as well as good. Both parties must be communicated with, heard and encouraged to succeed with mutual respect and understanding.

In business, as in life, relationships that don’t operate on this healthy basis, can and probably should be replaced by one that is!

itm.org.uk